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The Booze Bus: An Insight


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 The Booze Bus: An Insight

The “Booze bus” sweeps up the City boys after they drown their Christmas sorrows according to Fiona Hamilton, London Correspondent from the Times (15 12 08). A quick overview to paint the picture will be useful. Michael begins his evening like many others during the festive season. He drank beer with his colleagues at a Christmas party.

Very sadly the night did not end as it ought to have. Michael a lawyer in his twenties was linked to a saline drip, vomiting over his expensive pin-striped suit after being taken for treatment by police officers who found him passed out on the pavement.

Michael, after being attended to was left recovering on a stretcher in a makeshift tent whilst they attended to other people facing the same fate as Michael.

What is and why do we need a booze bus? two reasonable questions and two simple answers. In answer to the former, the booze bus is a “drunks-only” ambulance and is mobilised on occasions of widespread drunkenness in central London. We need the booze bus because the emergency services can remain free to fulfil their roles of treating the general public, without the extra pressures of drunks.

The ambulance service set up the treatment centre, along with a dedicated “booze bus” ambulance, in response to the binge-drinking culture and the rising number of alcohol-related incidents which take up valuable resources. To deal with the Christmas party crowd it opens on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 9pm to 3am until New Year’s Day.

Essentially, in the past year in London, emergency calls linked to drinking increased by 11 per cent, to more than 60,000. In the City in particular, the authorities have grappled with an increasing number of assaults and drunken incidents as more premises obtain late licences.

The duty station officer at the Liverpool Street centre Nick Lesslar, says that alcohol is a major factor in many of their call-outs over the Christmas period. He states ““By having the treatment centre, we can attend to people quickly without using up other resources,” He further adds “. Drunks are given saline for rehydration and placed in the recovery position while they vomit.Paramedics conduct 15-minute observations and if the patient does not improve within an hour, they are taken to hospital.

“We do see it all in here,” Mr Lesslar said. “The worst I can remember was last year when this very well-dressed woman came in. She was well educated and had a really good job in the City. She was covered in vomit from head to toe. She’d been drinking cocktails since 10.30am.” Last Friday night, on a nearby train platform, police found a 21-year-old woman who had passed out without her top on. Her friends had helped her to the station but left her in a drunken state. Her embarrassed parents travelled from Southend to pick her up. The problem of excessive drinking is not confined to London, with ambulance services across the country employing new strategies to deal with the binge-drinking culture.

Similarly last year was also very eventful for paramedic Brian Hayes with a jovial grin describes his job.

Over the course of a 12-hour shift on Friday night, he and his two colleagues on the Alternative Response Vehicle - or Booze Bus, as it’s more commonly known - draw on their reserves of composure, ingenuity and stoicism to treat more than 20 dazed drunks.

At St Thomas’ Hospital, where some of these patients are taken, a visibly-frustrated doctor speaks despairingly of dealing with a tide of alcohol-related problems, instead of people who are seriously ill.

“Everyone I’ve treated tonight has been drunk - this is ridiculous,” he says.

At about 0200GMT, he predicts things are only going to get worse as the night goes on.

“I have no beds in my observation units as we’re full already. This is the calm before the storm - it’ll go ballistic.”

One drunk patient had assaulted him, he says, and the waiting room was full of people being sick or aggressive.
“Twenty-four hour drinking has made a huge, huge difference. The problem is that staff are dealing with people who are drunk and don’t know what they’re doing,” he says.

Stephan dislocated his ankle climbing railings, “Doctors are run off their feet and in the vast majority of cases it is just alcohol. It is binge drinking. We don’t see people who’ve had just two drinks. People have had 20 shots of vodka.

“They’re generally 18 to 25, but it’s all sorts - including lawyers and people in their 60s.”

The Booze Bus - or Vomit Comet, as it has also been dubbed - was Mr Hayes’s creation three years ago. The three paramedics take the alcohol ambulance out at times of heavy drinking, such as the World Cup, Gay Pride and the festive season. On a busy night it treats more than 20 people.

The Booze Bus operates every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in December, plus Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Demand increases 10-15% on a busy Friday night before Christmas. November was the busiest month in history of the London Ambulance Service. Liverpool St station has ambulance staff and vehicles for alcohol incidents in the City. Croydon has a fast-response vehicle for the same purpose.

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